Subpostmaster’s wrongful conviction contributed to early death, widow says

Julian Wilson, who ran a post office in Worcestershire, took a plea deal in 2008 after auditors found more than £27,000 missing from the accounts.

16 February 2022

A subpostmaster’s wrongful conviction over missing funds “massively contributed” to his early death aged 67, his widow has said.

Julian Wilson, who ran a post office in Astwood Bank, Worcestershire, took a plea deal in 2008 after auditors found more than £27,000 missing in the branch accounts.

He was among some 700 subpostmasters and subpostmistresses (SPMs) prosecuted between 2000 and 2014, based on information from the Horizon IT system, installed and maintained by Fujitsu.

In December 2019, a High Court judge ruled that Horizon contained a number of “bugs, errors and defects” and there was a “material risk” that shortfalls in Post Office branch accounts were caused by the system.

Post Office closures
The inquiry into the scandal continues (PA)

Mr Wilson died from cancer in 2016 – more than four years before his conviction was overturned in April 2021.

Speaking to the inquiry into the scandal on Wednesday, his widow, Karen Wilson, 67, teared up as she described how the ordeal “massively contributed” to his early death.

Her husband, who was suspended in September 2008 when an audit found that there was more than £27,000 missing from the accounts, was charged with false accounting and theft.

Mrs Wilson described how he was left little choice but to take a plea deal to avoid prison and was sentenced to community service as well as a confiscation order for the missing money.

After the conviction, she said he was unable to find work, their assets were frozen and she ended up pawning her belongings including her engagement ring to get by.

Mrs Wilson also said her husband, who previously loved to take part in music and sports events, “just hid himself for about a year”.

“He couldn’t face it,” she said, adding that he would sometimes “just fall apart and talk about suicide”.

In January 2016, Mr Wilson was diagnosed with bowel cancer and as it progressed, Mrs Wilson promised him she would fight to vindicate him.

“I will carry on and that was my promise to him from a wife,” she said.

“He was only 67. I never said that this did kill him but it did massively contribute, definitely.”

Gillian Howard, 62, who ran the New Mill Post Office in West Yorkshire, also testified to the inquiry on Wednesday, saying she had “become a recluse” after her conviction.

Post Office court case
Former post office workers outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Yui Mok/PA)

Mrs Howard took over the branch’s management in 2010 after her husband suffered a stroke followed by a heart attack and had to step down.

She pleaded guilty to fraud in 2011 and received a six-month community sentence order after £45,850 was found to be missing – a conviction also overturned in April last year.

The 62-year-old said she received the letter notifying her of her prosecution on the morning of her daughter’s wedding, saying it was “the worst day of my life”.

On what she wanted now, Mrs Howard said: “I hope those people within the Post Office Ltd who destroyed myself and my family are also listening and hopefully will have taken on board the distress and hardship that their actions have caused me, my family and the other subpostmasters.”

Earlier in the day, the inquiry heard how Harjinder Butoy, 45, who ran the Sutton-in-Ashfield post office with his wife in Nottinghamshire, “fell apart” after he was wrongly convicted of stealing £208,000 in 2011 and was jailed for more than three years.

Former Riverside branch manager in Sevenoaks, William David Graham also told of how he was diagnosed with depression after he took a plea deal in 2011 to avoid a custodial sentence over a £65,000 shortfall.

The inquiry, which is expected to run for the rest of this year, is looking into whether the Post Office knew about faults in the IT system and will also ask how staff were made to take the blame.

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